Redwood Grapestake Fretless Double Reverse Anti-P-Bass


Another box of junk project. But, this one started from a strange, dried out, and badly sunburned neck, only. There was no body for it in the box.

The neck looked funny right off the bat. The fretboard looked to be made of laminated veneers of some kind. Forum denizens suggested it might be "Dymondwood". I read up on how Dymondwood was made, that it was about 30 layers per inch of laminated/compressed birch plies, etc. Looking at the end of the fretboard, and adjusting for the angle, sure enough it worked out to about 30 layers per inch.


That's about a 20˚ lay over, which works out to 30 layers per inch, or, 30 layers worth at the heel of the neck


Unfortunately, the fretboard had shrunk, resulting in pretty bad fret sprout. The frets were bronze or some bronzy colored material, but rather than do 40 fret end file jobs, I yanked them. The project idea that was forming in my head was a fretless double reverse P type bass, with a piezo bridge. Leo said frets made it a "precision" bass. So this one will be an anti-Precision bass.

Before getting into the de-fretting, the headstock needed to be addressed...
This neck was covered in the flat white primer/paint nearly everything else in the junk box is covered in, along with 1000 year old masking tape. The headstock profile is odd, fat, kind of crude. The tuner holes are also badly aligned. I printed off a template for a P-bass headstock and traced it out. I also plugged the tuner holes for relocation.


This neck had the tuner holes drilled about 3/8" to the bass side. Even with fat post tuners, there would have been a lot of break off the nut to the side. Too much.
Below, the black lines show the straight string break, the red lines show the original break. Red dots represent fat tuner posts.

use a template

Shaped and plugged.

And cut and sanded. The new holes are indexed, ready to drill. But before that, time to de-fret.



I've pulled a lot of frets, the right tool makes a big difference in the final result. My pullers are made from a small pair of vintage end-nippers. I carefully ground the head down, removing the inward bevel on the cutting edge until it was flush with the outside. I cleaned up the radius a bit, too. These are very sharp, and slip under the fret wire with ease. A light squeeze, and the chisel angle lifts the fret slightly without any rocking. At the same time, the head of the tool is pressed down on the edge of the fret slot, minimizing chips. Squeeze/slide/squeeze/slide/squeeze and most frets are ready to come out, usually pretty cleanly. For frets that are glued in, heating them up with a soldering iron loosens any glue.


There will always be some chips. Pre 80's Fenders had the frets pushed in from the side. They chip very badly if pulled straight up/out. Crazy glue is your friend. After each fret gets pulled, run a line of crazy glue over the edges of the fret slot to glue down any chips. On this mystery ply fretboard, there were very few chips. In the shot you can see the sunburn lines where I pulled more thousand year old masking tape off. I left the dried out residue until I was done de-fretting. It's all going to get sanded off anyway. At this point, I hoped the sunburn wasn't too deep.


When I play the Alvarez ABG, which was defretted last year, I noticed I had a hard time seeing the lines with the high gloss board, especially in dim light. There are those who say, "you play by ear on a fretless!" That is true in many respects, and you should know where your hands are when you play. But I regularly play 4 or 5 completely different basses, and they all play differently. Lines make the difference. If you don't get close to hitting your note the first shot, everytime, you are going to sound... bad. Lines and dots let you know where the note is.

What would REALLY be helpful (to me) is lines that I can actually see well. So on this neck I cut thicker lines. 50% thicker. From 0.022" (normal fret wire slot size), I went up to 0.33-0.034". This just happened to be the width of the veneer I had handy, and, the kerf on a fine tooth hacksaw blade. While I was widening the slots, on the top side of the neck, I cut the slots all the way down to the fretboard/neckwood joint. More line to see.

slotting veneers

I used super glue to glue the veneers in place. It sets up and cures fast. No time wasted waiting to cut, scrape and sand. Ready to go!

all in

Sanded to a 12" radius. You can see some of the chip fills on the right slot. And, the slots go all the way down.

deep slots

Looks pretty good to me. Sanded to a 12" radius, all fret tang gouges filled. The sunburn wasn't very deep on the fretboard.

board sanded

On the Alvarez ABG, I'd originally wanted just oiled rosewood for a fingerboard, but even the tapewound Rotos were leaving marks. So I ended sealing it with CA/super-glue. I don't know where this Dymondwood composite board is, janka-wise, but I do like playing the hard board on the Alvarez. CA/super glue finish will be layed on.

When I sealed the Alvarez board, I used a business card to spread super thin layers of CA. A lot of layers. Lots. Probably 15 or 20. Then I sanded smooth with a generic flat block, being extra careful not to sand through (and I still did, twice). On this one, I wanted to speed things up. I picked up a 12" radius block and used that to prep the neck. Then I taped a dam around the board surface and squirted in a bunch of CA. FUMES. I had a fan behind me, going full blast, but they were still bad.
The result was shit. And, it took week and a half to dry. A lumpy mess. I ended up sanding it about 90% back, then I went back to pulling on very thin layers. Toward the end I discovered that if you wipe the CA on with a paper towel (a good blue shop paper towel) the glue cures on the paper towel in the exact radius of the fretboard, making spreading the layers on evenly a bit easier.


Eventually, after making several wrong turns trying to save time (nope), I sanded smooth, smoother, smoothest. Buffed and polished the CA board up to this. Very shiny, very smooth, very level, and very hard.

finished board

Nice and flat. Rock hard, CA finish done.
A word of warning about sanding cured CA... WET sand it while using a respirator, or at least, wet sand with a huge fan behind you, going full blast. Wet sanding will turn the dust into a relatively benign slurry, whether you use water or mineral spirits as the "wet". While the solvents in the CA can be very irritating during application, the dried dust is a lot nastier and can trigger acute bronchitus. You'll be in hell for weeks, and have a tickle cough for several months. Worse yet, you'll be sensitized to the crap, and every time you're re-exposed, it will be worse.
It does make an AWESOME, glass smooth fingerboard, though.


The fingerboard sanded out so nice, I couldn't really leave the headstock with plugs showing. Yep, another Fender style headstock veneer job... no fun. I put this cap on before I layed on the CA fingerboard coating, btw.

First thing, cut a slot under the fretboard so the veneer can be sanded down flush without a weird scarf joint gap. A tight butt joint is what we are after here.


Glue the veneer on. Lots of clamps and glue. So many clamps needed to make it even. Here is the veneer, after being glued on and slid up under the slot.


Ready to fill and finish. This cap is made of "handy" veneer. Meaning it was what I had handy at the moment. It looks nice, but has a lot of grain to fill. It's not maple.


Close up of the veneer butt joint. That's a nice tight fit.



Time to build a body for this neck.

I have plenty of raw materials. Pine, poplar, walnut, oak... a huge pile of old redwood grapestakes.


Those stakes look like hell, BUT, they are mostly old, old growth redwood. Meaning the year rings are very close compared to big box store redwood. This should make the wood stronger. I've planed off a few of these in the past to see what was underneath the 75 years of grime and faded green copper naphthenate. Really tight grain wood was underneath. The ring count on some of these old stakes is amazing. Mixed in with the few "newer" 10-20 rings per inch are some old, old growth stakes with ring counts of 40, 50, up to 60 rings per inch. There also some stakes called "splits". These have such straight grain that they were never sawed. Perfect 2x2 stakes were simply cleaved off. The splits have ring counts so high you need a magnifying glass to count them. One old split 2x2 represents about 250 years of growth.
Farmers around here hate these stakes. Everybody uses steel trellises now. The tens of thousands of these old wood stakes they've pulled out and stacked are illegal to burn due to the copper naphthenate dip (though many stake piles do mysteriously "spontaneously" combust), and so farmers just stack them up into huge piles and ignore them. Or, put a big sign saying "FREE STAKES" on the pile and hope they all go away. That's how I got these.
Now you know where all the ancient old growth sequioa forests went.

Here's a cut-off from one of the stakes I used in the bass body. This one is about 60 rings per inch.

60 per inch

Underneath, the wood is beautiful.

stake planed

I picked out two decent looking stakes (near the top of the stack), planed them off and cut then into thirds. Then I glued up the three pieces of each stake into "wings". Most of each stake is good wood. The ends, though, are usually not good, either split or rotted out. For the average 7 foot stake, you get about 6 feet of useable wood.


Despite likely being stronger than "normal" redwood, I laminated a spine out of three 1x4 poplar planks and glued the wings to the spine. No point in taking chances with wood that may not be strong enough to hold a bass neck under tension. My planer is only 13" wide, so a whole P-bass body just fits through. For wider bodies, I plane them to thickness before glue up and I'm extra careful on alignment.
Redwood on the bottom. Poplar on top. One of the Tightbonds (1, 2, or 3) is the glue. I think these were glued with 3.


The billet came out looking great. Next, to the bandsaw.


I cut the lower horn just a hair deeper than the traditional P-bass outline. I'm going to say this was done for extra reach, and not because I lost the line while cutting. It would be a problem if I wasn't back-loading this body. A standard P-bass pickguard just barely wouldn't fit.
I've given the raw body a wipe with mineral spirits here to see what we're working with, colorwise. The top wing was almost all dark heartwood, while the bottom wing was a bit lighter. The poplar's green tinge really stands out. The raw body is still about 2" thick here. Since this body will fit through the planer, I didn't plane to thickness before I glued it up. With the planer I took it down to 1.75" thick and then finish sanded with 220.

raw body

Roundover done and the neck pocket is routed. Time to measure and lay out the centerlines and the reverse double P pickup routes. For the next body, I'll try to pick all heartwood.

sanded body

I swabbed on a couple thin layers of #1 platina shellac to seal it up. The poplar's green tint needs to be addressed. So, I also mixed up some fresh 2# garnet shellac. There is some promise here. The redwood looks great already. And poplar under shellac usually has some nice prismatic properties. Poplar doesn't stain well, usually, but naturally tinted shellac over the top works great.


Black or cream pickup covers? As I added a few more coats of garnet and the poplar blended over more to red, I picked the cream covers. You can see the garnet turning the poplar a nice golden red color (it's not just the lighting differences). There are a few more coats on the body in the pic with cream covers.

black or cream

Control cavity route. I countersunk a lip to recess the steel cover plate. Then I gave the cavity a few wipes of shellac too. Since I didn't want to damage the the color coat during the final sanding before lacquer, I wiped a few coats of platina at the end. I could have just waxed and oil polished the shellac out at this point, but any alcohol exposure (any) would damage the finish, so sand it smooth and hit it with nitro. All the shellac flake I use is dewaxed so I can top coat it with anything. It's mixed with fresh denatured alcohol.

control cavity

Time for lacquer! I sprayed 7 or 8 coats after sanding the shellac smooth.
God.... DAMN!
The redwood looks amazing. The poplar came out nice too.



Since the body came out WELL above expectations (this project originally was "junk" wood for a "junk" neck???), I needed to address the plain jane, badly sunburned and off white maple of the neck. And the mystery wood headstock veneer. The sunburn was deep on the back of the neck. Also, when the original tuner holes were drilled way back when, it looks like the headstock was not backed up, so there are big deep chips that need filling. CA to the rescue!

more sunburn

After sanding as much of the sunburn as I dared out, I turned to the trusty jar of iron acetate to darken the grain, followed by a few garnet shellac coats. The CA around the plugs still needs to be block sanded off in this shot.

neck dark

CA filler sanded flat, new tuner holes drilled. Getting closer.


So... the neck holes were out of alignment. By a lot.
I wish I'd checked before doing all the finish work. Also, they are drilled waaay to big. A #8 screw slides right out. Nice...

neck holes

I recentered the holes and drilled and tapped for big 10-32 threaded inserts. The bits of pink crap is metal to metal threadlock residue. These are "soft metal" inserts, which seem to work better on hardwoods than the knife edge wood inserts. I swabbed the tapped holes with CA to harden up the cut threads, then screwed the inserts in. They were very snug. Now, instead of wood screws, I'll use 10-32 oval head machine screws to bolt the neck on.


Ok, neck mounted. Ready to do the final wiring and assembly. Headstock came out nice, too.
I printed the decal on the laser, soak/slipped it off, flipped it over and put it back on the paper. Then I filled in the blank areas with a gold paint pen. Once the gold was dry, I resoaked it, slipped it off, flipped it again, and put it on the headstock. Then I buried it in lacquer.
The generic Chinese elephant ear tuners are horrible. They were apparently chromed immediately after machining - without having any swarf blown off. HUGE crusty chunks are chromed deep in the threads. Junk (for real). I got them to turn, after a few hours of work, but they are coming off. I have a very nice (HEAVY) set of Grover Titans I'll use instead.


Pickups in, bridge mounted. Time to figure out the control layout. 6-way switch, volume, tone. Annnnd, nope, switch should be on the back. I cast the piezo "mono-saddle" bridge using lost wax- slurry dip method.


I finally got to use some of that machinable wax I brewed up a few years back. Since then, the cheap plastic bags that made up most of the recipe have been outlawed.
Once cast, I shaped the "mono sadlle" down, but forgot to drill and tap it first. That's why the bass side adjuster is not on the corner. The corner busted out when I was tapping the adjuster threads. I welded a glob of aluminum on the end, drilled and tapped the glob FIRST, then shaped it with files. It needs to be redone, properly. As you can also see, I forgot to de-gas the aluminum before I poured. Lots of porosity.
During the setup, I needed to split the bone in half so I could properly set the string radius. I carved some compensation into the bone when I first cut it to shape, and with just minimal set-up it came out very close to perfect intonation. Not that it matters all that much on a fretless bass, but still...
I cut the bridge plate from 1/8th sheet steel. It's heavy, and the whole bridge weighs in at 160g. For reference, a Fender high mass bridge is about 235g, a regular Fender folder bridge is about 95g.

piezo bridge

Controls drilled and mounted. 6-way switch at the back. That's better! Vintage cream bakelite cupcake knobs. The chicken-head is solid aluminum, and the switch plate is brass. Tele jack plate on the side, not quite a perfect fit, but good enough since the finish is done.


I spent a whole nickel on the string retainer. I already had the well used screw. You can see the gold filler paint in the decal, too.


And everything is in. I split the pickups, so the 6-way rotary switch (after some surgery) controls all the combos I wanted:

1- Piezo
2- Bridge pair
3- Inner pair
4- Bridge pair and Neck pair in series
5- Outer pair
6- Neck pair

Originally, I'd planned on building a simple piezo buffer, since piezo pickups generally sound thin and clacky. But this bridge has 2 full length acoustic guitar piezo bars in it. They are run parallel which, with piezo pickups, sums the output. They are pretty full as is, whish surprised me. I may still build a buffer, but it isn't very high on the to-do list right now.

done close

All done. Well, except for the strap buttons.
It came in at 8-3/4 lbs. and sounds very nice. Great growl and mwah. The action is pretty low right now. The Roto 77 flats work well with this bass, but 88 tapes might be better. We'll see.
Looks-wise, it's one of the nicest instruments I've built. The "junk" redwood stakes open many possibilities for bodies - both solid and hollow.